To the casual observer, Morro Bay looks like an idyllic place. Sea lions frolic in the water, sailboats ride at anchor and fishermen unload their catch at a busy waterfront.
But the bay and its surrounding watershed face a variety of vexing environmental problems. These include accelerated sedimentation, contamination by bacteria, nutrients and toxins and an insufficient inflow of freshwater to support steelhead trout and other endangered species caused by drought and groundwater pumping.
On Tuesday, the Morro Bay National Estuary Program unveiled an updated management plan, a blueprint of 58 steps that are intended to deal with these problems over the next five years at least. The new plan is the result of two years of input from the public and stakeholders in the bay including ranchers, fishermen and environmentalists.
The updated plan focuses on new issues facing the estuary and watershed that were not adequately addressed when the last management plan was completed in 2001, said Adrienne Harris, the estuary programs executive director.
Projects to be undertaken through the new plan include reducing sedimentation from erosion on rural roads in the upland portions of the watershed, restoration of eelgrass beds within the bay and a clean boats campaign to reduce pollution from boats in the bay.
These programs are a continuation of several successful projects undertaken by the estuary program over the past decade, Harris said. Past successes include conserving 3,000 acres of land in the watershed, installation of 65,000 feet of fencing along streams to exclude cattle, creation of an Estuary Nature Center and completion of a sediment catchment basin in Chorro Creek.
The work of protecting and restoring Morro Bay is far from over, Harris said. The estuary program relies on community support, volunteers and donations to complete its mission.
Read the estuary management plan at www.mbnep.org/Library/ccmp.html.
Morro Bay is considered one of the most significant wetland systems along the California coast. The estuary is 2,300 acres of fresh and saltwater habitats which includes the lower reaches of Chorro and Los Osos creeks.